Blood on the Grass, Blood on Paper

Writing is such a powerful form of self-expression. We write for many reasons. We write to express joy, anger, humor, and more often than not, sadness. Life is full of pain and suffering. I had a moment of anguish recently when I was mowing the lawn. One moment I am mowing the grass, the next something long and shiny is flashing about, like a streak of blue lightning. I stop the lawnmower, distraught that I hit a snake. Soon enough, I find out that it’s not a snake, but a legless lizard, an eastern glass one to be precise. I put it in a box with a blanket. I call animal rescue, take a picture of it, and send it to them. The wound is too severe. I can’t save it. For the rest of the evening I am in a deep pit of melancholy over the beautiful animal I accidentally killed.

To this day I wish I hadn’t of mowed the lawn at that particular time. Or I wish I had of seen the eastern glass lizard before I hit him. There is the chance it could have been sick and dying to begin with. But I ask myself, what if he wasn’t? What if he was enjoying the warm sun and the soft grass, his idea of a perfect day in an Eden-like setting? What if he felt joy unmeasurable, a sense of contentment, only to have it destroyed by the apocalypse of not a lawnmower, but a doomsday device that obliterated the vast microcosmic world of my yard?

I didn’t know what to do. I was his unintentional executioner, but I couldn’t purposely be his savior, no matter how hard I tried. So I wrote this poem in the creature’s honor.

Upon blades of grass, you rested, 
a coil of silver water, turquoise under the sun, 
when blades of steel should cut through your joy.

I saw you flop and thrash, 
your blue and silver thrashing like ocean waves during a storm,
a storm that toiled inside. 
I am going to live.

One drop of blood spoke a thousand passions 
of the struggle for life, the appreciation for beauty. 
Your silent scream tore asunder the blockades of the human heart,
rending its fortified walls into rubble.

Silver and blue, a garment rich and pure. 
You stoically fought like the knight you were,
and kept your noble vestige even amongst the crimson.

The trees, the flowers, the grass, the palms, your temple, will always hold you in remembrance.

 

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An eastern glass lizard. Not the one I accidentally hit in my yard. This image is the property of Wikimedia Commons, taken by NatalieK.

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I’m Not Sensitive to Sensitivity Readers

It has come to my attention that there is a new type of editor in town, someone termed a sensitivity reader. What does a sensitivity reader do? Simply put, they review an author’s manuscript to see if there are any problematic representations of different minorities, genders, or sexual orientations. Their goal is to help the author to correctly represent those who they are writing about, so that nothing hurtful or stereotypical may be written.

In theory, I have no problem with this. There is too much hatred in this world, too much oppression. I am in full agreement that many minorities and others have for far too long been mispresented, disenfranchised, and have faced continual bigotry and or racism. I agree that more stories being written in which women, blacks, Mexicans, and so forth are a welcome breath of fresh air. The world is a diverse place and we need that represented in literature. Therefore, with all that said, why do I have a problem with sensitivity readers?

Looking for offense just to find offense.
Hey, if I write something that you deem offensive about another group of people, let me

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know and I’ll greatly consider changing it if my book hasn’t been published yet or if it already has been published I’ll remember your advice when I write a future book. It’s not my goal to offend different minorities, different genders, and gender preferences and whatnot. However, if you hire someone looking to find offense then they are going to find offense, even when none was intended. This brings up the next point.

Can a sensitivity reader speak for everyone in that group?
It would be easy to write a story that didn’t offend anyone if everyone thought the same. But here are the cold facts, they don’t. Not even individuals within the same group of people will think the same. Let’s look at non-blacks wearing dreds. This is a contentious issue for some. It first came to my attention when I saw a few Youtube videos of blacks saying that non-blacks shouldn’t wear dreds. Before jumping on the bandwagon, I looked up other videos and found just as many blacks counter-arguing that viewpoint, proclaiming just as loudly that anyone can have dreds, even whites. When I asked a bunch of African-Americans in person, most were perplexed that there were some who said non-blacks couldn’t have dreds. Only one had an issue with it.  Or how about the celebration of Cinco De Mayo and the wearing of sombreros? Most of my Hispanic friends are absolutely cool with non-Hispanics celebrating Cinco De Mayo and wearing sombreros. The only thing they asked was that immigrants not be treated cruelly. A more than reasonable request. Let’s also not forget about the row of what happened in Utah, in which a little non-Japanese girl was berated online for having a Japanese tea party for her birthday. Or how about the art museum that was criticized for letting non-Japanese try on a kimono? There were many Japanese, who criticized those who took offense at those who were offended at the little girl’s Japanese tea party and to those who were offended by those non-Japanese trying on a kimono.

By now, the question is inevitably popping up about what this has to do with sensitivity readers and getting feedback from a community you are writing about. The short answer is that both writing about a different culture, race, or group of people, as well as dealing with cultural appropriation issues with fashion, hairstyles, and holidays, all go down to the core of representation of a group of people. Do they like the representation? Just as someone gets a variety of viewpoints from different people in the same group when it comes to cultural appropriation, one is going to get different readers from the same group with different sensitivities from each other. It’s possible to find someone from India who may like how the writer portrays Indians and another who finds it offensive, or a Chinese person who finds the way Chinese are portrayed as problematic, another right on the dot. Therefore, it’s important to remember that….

It’s dangerous to try and please everyone.
I wish it was easy to please everyone. As a writer, I don’t want to offend different

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religious groups, races, nationalities, or ethnicities. I want all sorts of people to read my books and to love them. But the uncomfortable truth is that I know I am going to accidentally offend someone. Realize that I don’t mean to. Realize that most writers don’t mean to.

However, that doesn’t mean I still won’t ask people in different groups for feedback.
Okay, so I’ve gone off about how I don’t trust sensitivity readers. That doesn’t mean that I still won’t ask different people in races, groups, ethnicities, religions, and genders for input when writing a book. I value input, and I want to be accurate. I just don’t want to hire someone who is looking for offense.

Am I Wrong?
Okay, I said my piece. Now I ask you, my dear reader friends, if I have it wrong? Am I looking at this issue incorrectly? Do you agree or disagree with me? Please explain why, civilly that is, in the comments section. I’d love to hear from you.

 

Rebirth: Short Story

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Orion Nebula from Wikimedia Commons. All rights to NASA.

This story is recommended for ages 13 and up for violence, war, and some language.

This short story is dedicated with appreciation to the band Daft Punk, who may have left the seeds for an idea of this story from one of their animated music videos dealing with false memories. 

Reg, the Hygolian Dark Beast, stood among burning rubble of the small outpost of Helitia 5, the bodies of the Tandonians, soldier and civilian alike, old and young with smoldering craters in their bodies caused from high powered plasma blasts from Reg’s P16 rifle, lay amongst the rubble. From the homes school, and places of business destroyed to all of the dead, Reg had a sense of satisfaction. Some would call him a criminal. For what? This was poetic justice against the Tandonians, a race that had wiped out countless civilizations himself. He knew. He had experienced their cruelty.

Reg had only been a seven year-old child, scrawny of limbs, and not the muscle bound warrior he later became, when the Tandonian military fleet had attack his planet Yillus just beyond the KX-12 Asteroid Belt. Reg had been at school that day, reading a history of the inner planets from the computer screen on his desk, when an armored Tandonian squad had burst into the classroom and engaged in slaughter. A Tandonian commander fired a shot at Mr. Elyron, the android teacher. The android’s head exploded, raining bright, blinding hot sparks on Reg and his screaming classmates. Poor Mr. Elyron, the fun-loving android who made education interesting, a member of the faculty who could engage students better than any of the human teachers. Next came his assistant, Ms. Arachna, a squat robot on four wheels, her eight arms flailing as she tried to protect and comfort the kids. All eight arms were shot off, and her memory circuit blown to smithereens. No more would she be around to comfort crying children, or to multitask with her eight arms in helping other teachers with their tasks. It was heartrending. None of that could even match the nightmare of seeing his friends and classmates being picked off one by one, as the Tandorian squad made a game out of seeing how many children they could kill.

Reg had survived by seeking safety under Mr. Elyron desk. All teachers had a stairway below their desk which lead to a shelter in case of attacks. Sadly, the Tandorians had attacked so fast that warning hadn’t been given over the intercom of the school, nor could warning have easily been given. They had uploaded a cloaker onto miniature satellites that hacked into the colony’s computer system, causing a download of the program. This disabled much of the planet’s radars and call systems.

As a boy, Reg could only be thankful that the computerized teacher’s desk was working. Once he slipped down the stairs with a few other student, the computer sealed the alcove of the desk with a thick titanium shield for protection. Reg, and the two other students, who had kept their wits about them when the soldier came crashing in, sat huddled in the basement, forced to listen to the laser canons blasting everything away. That hour had been horrendous. He had heard one of the soldiers ask for a plasma bomb in order to blow the shield off the desk. The soldier was told that none of the troops had plasma bombs on them, and that they would have to go back to the ship to get one. Nonetheless, they had managed blow the shield off without one.

Soon, Reg and his two classmates had been surrounded by six Tandonian soldiers. Reg had thought his life would go out by the burst of a laser beam. But instead of opening fire, the soldiers mocked them. He couldn’t remember what they said. He remembered that they spoke Yillian. He also remembered the basic jest of what they said. Basically, they laughed at him and his remaining classmates, and told them that they would forever live with this image burned in their minds, that the Tandorians were a superior people and that they should best remember that. They then left Reg and his classmates to their fears.

Deliverance had come hours later in the form of the armed Yillian forces. A group of them, made up of both humans and robots alike, had slowly repelled the Tandonian forces, but at great losses to themselves. They finally found Reg and his two remaining classmates in the shelter under the desk. His remaining classmates were bawling loudly, but not him. Reg was too in shock to make a sound.

Reg’s shock didn’t let up as the armed forces flew him to an adoption center. He had lost his parents. All around him the city had been a charred wasteland, buildings burning, bullet transportation tubes demolished, a few remaining survivors rummaging through the wreckage. Those survivors had been left alive as a warning that they must bow to Tandonian rule. And through it all, he was numb, but not numb enough that he hadn’t made a promise to himself. He would enlist in the Yillian fringe group the Nova Freedom Fighters, and he would punish the Tandonians so that no other innocent people might have to suffer under these animals.

Hence Reg’s current situation. Mercy by leaving some alive? It certainly hadn’t been merciful to him, now stuck with memories of the parents he had lost. If anything Reg was being merciful by killing everyone so none had memories of pain for the rest of their lives. If anything, Reg wasn’t a monster. He was a saint.

Yet, he fought like a beast, like one of those Hygolian beasts on the dark planet Zoron. The Hygolians were a giant feline-like creature who had evolved over the years when the sun’s planet had slowly dimmed into a red dwarf. These feline aliens could rip the biggest animals to shreds in a matter of seconds. Reg took out a regiment of Tandonion soldiers in a matter of seconds on his very first mission with the Nova Freedom Fighters. He was so effective at killing that the Freedom Fighters had given him the name Hygolian Dark Beast. They had also learned he worked better alone, so they only gave him mission orders of outposts to take out, letting him do the rest.

Giving one last look of satisfaction over his handiwork, Reg made his way back to his ship, a Stealth Buntera 84. He would leave the wreckage of this outpost behind, a grim reminder to the Tandonians that the Yills were not to be messed with.

In the comfort of his cockpit, he started pressing the buttons to activate the thrusters. A low hum came from the back. And then it droned off. This wasn’t right. There should have been a roaring fire coming from his engine, propelling him 25,000 miles per hour to enter orbit. Instead the system that had activated his thrusters had been shut down.

“Damn it!” he slammed his fist against the panel of brightly lit neon colors.

Breathing deeply, he reminded himself that now was not the time to panic.

“Computer, what the hell’s preventing lift off?” he asked.

Instantly a hologram came up on his computer screen, hovering a little below eye level in front of him, of three Tandonian battle cruisers. The large, bulky ships were on three corners, a hundred feet in distance, vertical of each other.

“What else can you tell me?” he asked the computer.

Instead of directly answering him in speech, the computer presented a hologram of the lowest ship. His reading indicated that a signal had been sent to his ship, disabling his drive. No matter, he could possibly override it.

That’s when it began to grow hot and bright. Crap! There was only one reason that such a change in light and temperature was happening. He had to get out of his ship unless he wanted to fry.

In a panic, he tumbled out of his escape hatch. Circling him in a hundred foot circle was a plasma force field. The Tandonian fleet could have easily used a magnetic force field instead, but no, they were going all out with a plasma one. The dome of plasma rose high, an enclosure of burning purple and pink, blocking out ships and any type of view. The temperature was hot, so hot. Reg felt like he was about to pass out and there was nothing he could do about it.

He couldn’t send out a distress call to the Nova Freedom Fighters, or anyone for that matter. The plasma force field jammed all communications. By now it would have neutralized his other ship functions as well.

Reg fell to the ground, his fist clenched. He pounded the earth, cursing as beads of sweat from both the heat and his stress rolled and dripped off his body. The bastards had got him. The murderers had conquered him. Damn them all!

 

Dr. Yolix awoke on Space Station Pulsar 1, excited about the news. They had caught him, the Beast of the Dark, Nova Freedom Fighter’s champion soldier, a man so brutal and skilled that he had to work solo from the group. This was good news to wake up to indeed.

The doctor looked out the window to see the stars spin by, indication that the station was still spinning to create artificial gravity. This was a good thing. There was nothing as obnoxious as taking a shower in freefall, where one had to hang onto a handle unless one wanted to float, with water droplets floating in every which direction, but hardly hitting the bather. It had happened to Yolix once when the gravitational spin malfunctioned. It was awful. Aside from his shower being ruined, he had to float around for his notes. Not something he wanted to live again. There was one chamber in the middle of the station, a sphere attached by four force-field magnetic tubes leading from the four directions of the ring which encircled it, that was zero gravity. The doctor often used that sphere to sooth patients. The weightlessness made them feel like children again, and helped calm their minds. Maybe he would use that room on the Hygolian Beast of the Dark.

After taking a shower, the doctor rode the horizontal walkway down to his lab, it slowing down the closer he got. The door slid open for him, and strapped to a reclining chair, safely behind a tube of glass, was the Hygolian Beast of the Dark. Even with all those safety mechanics in place, Nova Freedom Fighter’s greatest killer still looked menacing. He was eyeing Yolix with eyes thirsting for blood and he was struggling in his restraints.

“Let me the hell out of here, you bastard!” came his voice muffled from behind the tube. “I’ll blow a hole in you! Cut where the hole is, skin you, and wear it if I don’t pull your intestines out and choke you with them first.”

“He certainly is spirited, but I wouldn’t call him stoic,” said Commander Kester, the man who had helped bring the Beast in. He was standing by the tube that restrained the man who had slaughtered a colony and thousands of others throughout the system.

On the other end of the lab was Dr. Yolix’s assistant, Nesha Benu, feeding and monitoring two headed purple slug worms from the Gydo moon. He could see their suction cupped bodies, much like the suction cups of an octopus’s tentacle, let go of the sides of the terrarrium when she fed them rodents from their home-world. These slugs ate their prey alive. Cold killers, much like the Beast who glared at him from behind the tube.

“Mark my words,” the Beast said, “I’m going to find a way out and I’m going to inflict painful torture on you until you die like the worm you are. You almost fried me in a plasma force field.”

“Hello, Reg,” Dr. Yolix smiled at him.

“Finally, after all that searching, after all those chases through deep space, after all those innocents killed, we got the bastard,” sighed Commander Kester, absolutely exhausted.

“And I thank you for it,” nodded Dr. Yolix, still staring at to who many called the Hygolian Dark Beast but to him who was just Reg. Reg acknowledged him by baring his teeth. “Would you like a drink, Commander, to sooth your nerves?” the doctor turned his attention to Kester.

“Nah. I’ll be fine. Don’t forget, we have a meeting with the council soon. You are going to have a hell of a time convincing them to keep this monster alive. I know I already want to murder him. The point is, you can’t miss this council or they will kill him.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Yolix. “Ms. Benu,” he called to his assistance. She jogged over, a young woman wearing a skirt and a lab coat, her dark hair braided in the latest Tandonian fashion. “Will you be okay with our guest?”

“Don’t worry about me,” his assistant reassured him. “If he breaks out, the guns will activate and so will the XP-16s.”

The doctor nodded in approval, especially content with the knowledge that the XP-16s, heavy armored robotic armed guards with multiple laser and plasma canons, would come into play.

“Yes, but let’s not rest on our laurels,” protested the Commander. “What if some Nova rebels are in the vicinity?”

Yolix smiled with genuine warmth and trust at Kester. “Commander, I don’t doubt that you have already thought of this and have put all of the proper security in place.”

“Yes, but”…. He trailed off. “Yes, you’re right. I’m just a little damned stressed, that’s all.”

“You sons of bitches!” shouted Reg. “It’s not my fault I’m here! It’s yours!”

“Yes, but of course you’re right,” the doctor touched the tube gently as if he were offering comfort to the killer. “It’s not your fault.” In truth, he had to try not to laugh. He could understand everything Reg was saying because of the translating system. But translating systems couldn’t synchronize mouth movements to words, so it was comical to see the killer of colonies moving his lips like a badly dubbed movie.

“Doctor, I think it might be wise to inject the patient with some toxin to make him hallucinate about nice things,” Benu offered. “We have gotten the narcotic in from those new flowers from Cypress IV.”

“Not a bad idea,” said Yolix. “You may proceed.”

And from the safety of the other end of the tube, Benu pressed a button on her handheld control tablet, causing a mechanical arm with a needle on the end to go down the tube and inject the hallucinogen into Reg.

 

The conference hall seemed small, only able to sit twenty people at the max, but it didn’t need to be huge. Many at the conference were communicating via satellite image, their holograms appearing upon the stage when they had something to say. Until then, a large screen was in the background, each showing the face of a different leader in government, the military, or the sciences.

Commander Kester was on the stage in the flesh, and Dr. Yolix was sitting upon one of the chairs, the small cameras in the room capturing his image for those on different planets and space stations.

Still, there was someone of great importance missing. Someone who would take the trip of light-speed for six months to get here. Someone who was of such importance that she didn’t have to, nor shouldn’t have to, take that much time out of her life. Yet she had been promised that the Beast would be caught, that the Tandonian Galactic Navel Fleet had put their best minds and computers together to pinpoint the when and the where of the Beast’s next attack, and that they would have him in this certain time frame, the same time frame it would take her to come to Space Station Pulsar 1.

Arrive she did at the last minute. Governess Vangana walked gracefully into the conference room, her long silver outer-robe and her white inner-robe brushing against the floor. Her pale skin like the moon, her dark hair flowing down her back like chocolate, her chin pinched and her nose straight, complimenting her deep brown eyes, made her beautiful and regal. Even Yolix, a middle aged man, had to admit he was taken with her. By her side were her two armed guards. Both Yolix and Kester stood at attention, as did those on the computer monitors. She lifted up her hand indicating that they should all be seated. The Commander, in a sign of respect, left the stage, presenting it to her. She walked up to the podium where there was a symbol of the star of the Tandonian Empire. The star matched the one emblazoned on the front of her white robe. It was a star with deep significance, signifying the Tandonian alliance with the United Galaxy.

“Gentlemen, I’m sure you know why we are all here,” she said, her voice being translated solar system wide to the different languages spoken.

This time Yolix bit his tongue so as not to laugh. He knew that everyone else was trying to also. Yes, the interstellar translator may have made mouth movement look off, but one still had to show a sign of decorum and grace in front of the Governess.

“Many of you have suffered over the continued raids and killings over the fringe group the Nova Freedom Fighters,” continued Governess Vangana. “One member in particular, the Hygolian Beast of the Dark, who I shall just call the Beast, has been their most successful soldier. But despite all our pain and suffering, the peoples of the United Galaxy have stuck together, and with hope in their hearts, burning brighter than any star, have overcome these obstacles and kept the darkness of space alive with hope.

“We are here to listen to a proposal. Most of you are familiar with the name Dr. Yolix. After all, his name is spoken far and wide through each of the quadrants in praise of his revolutionary breakthroughs in psychiatric medicine. He is a man who has been able to rehabilitate the most hardened of criminals.”

There was angry shouting from all the leaders on the screens.

“Please,” said the Governess, putting her hands up. “I urge that we all listen to the doctor’s proposal before we decide if the Beast is to be terminated or rehabilitated.

“Dr. Yolix, do you have anything to say?” the Governess had turned her attention to him.

The doctor just smiled gently, relaxing into his chair. “Please, Governess, they have a right to express their concerns and vent their frustrations. They have a right to speak just as much as I. I say we give whoever wants to the right to vent first.”

“That will take time,” said the Governess.

“Is your Grace in any hurry?” he asked humbly.

Vangana bit her lip. “No, I suppose not. Whoever wishes to express grievances may do so.”

A stream of leaders and scientists, one after another, appeared in holographic succession in the conference room. Each one went on a long tirade about the brutality of the Beast, of the homes he destroyed, the innocents he killed. Some spoke pragmatically, others in a rage, while some even broke down in tears over the losses they faced. Many even made the argument that executing the Beast would send a sharp message to the Nova Freedom Fighters that their terrorist actions would not be tolerated, and that each and every member would be obliterated from the galaxy. These grievances seemed to stretch as far as the known universe with no end in sight.

There came a time that the Governess had to put a stop to it. “I respect everyone’s feelings over the issue, but we need to address our concerns to Dr. Yolix.”

“I thank you, your Grace,” said the doctor, getting out his seat and making his way to the podium. “I understand that that was a lot to take in, but I found it imperative that many unleash their grievances as possible.”

“You’re kidding me, damn it!” spoke up Commander Kester. “I haven’t witnessed so much damn emotion and anguish since I was on the killing fields of Vybon. Excuse the language, your Grace,” he added, embarrassed when he realized that he had forgotten he was in the company of the Governess of the Tandonia.

“Be at ease, Commander,” Vangana reassured him.

“I apologize,” said Yolix. “But believe me when I say that this was necessary. One of the most important aspects of humanity is to be listened to, to feel validated. The human ego is a powerful, and yet a fragile thing, and it must be nourished if we want a positive society. That means everyone gets a chance to speak, or in this case at least as many people as possible.

“Now, ladies and gentlemen, you know my proposal. Now, I should warn you that as a doctor and a scientist, I have a bad habit of speaking in technical terms. I’ll try to spare you the monotony of trying decipher a language that the interstellar translators can’t possibly hope to translate, and present my ideas and findings in plain everyday language. If I get too technical in my terminology, or I should say speech, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

“Anyway,” he clapped a fist in his hand, “I want to rehabilitate the Hygolian Dark Beast by changing his memories.”

“And what would you change them to?” said one of the leaders, his holographic image appearing briefly in the council room before going out like a flame.

“Something pleasant, something so that he doesn’t have to remember the pain of his past or the pain that he has now caused.”

The image of a military leader appeared. “And why should we grant him that respite? He’s a terrorist, a part of a terrorist organization.”

“Is he? Or is he too mentally ill to be held accountable?”

Angry murmurs resonated on the video screens, until Vangana said, “Interesting theory, Dr. Yolix. But from what basis do you go on?”

“The Beast isn’t the real terrorist in this case, but the Nova Freedom Fighters,” promulgated Yolix boldly.

“The Beast joined them,” rejoined another leader.

“Not on his own accord. The Hygolian Dark Beast’s real name is Reg Tynen, and he was only a young boy when he was kidnapped and then given false memories.”

“False memories? Did I hear you right?” said the Governess.

“Your hearing is just fine, your Grace. You see, Reg thinks he’s a Yillian.”

There were murmurs of confusion.

“Confused?” the doctor cocked an eyebrow. “Well, have any of you ever heard of the planet Yill? Of course you haven’t. It doesn’t exist. And yet, he claims he’s from that planet.”

“Did he tell you as much?”

“He didn’t tell me a thing, your Grace, except some choice swear words and issuing some threats. It was when he was unconscious that I was able to extract his memory. A memory of a planet that never existed, of a childhood that never was, of traumatic events that never happened. In short, his mind was altered by the terrorist group Nova Freedom Fighters themselves.”

“That’s a bold statement. Where did you get this information?”

Yolix took a deep breath. “That’s a long story. Can I have a glass of water before I proceed? I think I might need it. Ah, I’m sure I can get by. Well, you have to realize that the brain, in many ways, is like a computer and it functions by whatever memory is loaded onto it. It’s said that the mind is a blank slate at birth, and that ideas are gained empirically, or one could say knowledge is gained a posteriori instead of a priori.”

“So much for speaking in layman’s terms,” mumbled Kester. But Yolix didn’t hear him. He was too enraptured in a state of scientific and philosophical ecstasy.

“As I was saying, experiences are like data uploaded into our personal computers, in this case, the brain. Now, memory is stored all throughout the cortex, but long term memory is a function primarily of the hippocampus. If there is a soul, a ghost in the machine, as many philosophers have examined, then what place would be cozier than the hippocampus where emotions and memories comingle?

“We needn’t dwell on the psychological benefits or detriments depending on how the individual is raised. Numerous studies have shown how parents can rewrite the brains of their children, molding them a certain way. The Nova terrorists know that the best way to strike us is through the family unite, so why not capture children and brainwash them to their cause.

“And when did this happened?” asked a holographic image of a fellow scientist.

“It’s been happening for a long time,” said Kester. “Occasionally a child goes missing aboard a freighter. Where do you think they go?”

“To a terrorist cell?!”

“Well, half of them anyway. As everyone knows, it’s hard to detect a member of the cell. They are humans, just like us, with no DNA differences. And they have their ways of kidnapping children. We need not go into it.”

“We had suspicions,” said Vangana slowly. “But,”….

“But you didn’t want to even think that it was happening,” interjected Kester. “And I don’t blame you, your Grace. It’s an uncomfortable thought, but it’s true. Our intelligence was able to pick up the information by sending in a spy satellite, built to look like a Nova satellite, into their territory. That’s why we have all the information on the missing children, including who is now called the Hygolian Dark Beast.”

“But why our children?”

Kester sighed heavily. “It pains me to say it, but why not our children. We lose some who could grow up to e potential soldiers and they gain some more. Nova is tricky. They don’t always come in with guns blazing, but sometimes like our next door neighbors. What better way to deplete us than by stealing the young and killing the old.”

“Exactly,” said Dr. Yolix. “A young mind is still absorbing its surroundings.”

“Anyway,” continued the commander, “we learned about Reg from the files that intelligence hacked into. As previous stated by Dr. Yolix, Reg wasn’t born on Yill. He was born on Tandon to from what we can tell were very loving parents. It was on a trip from the belt to G19 that Mr. and Mrs. Tynen reported their son lost on the freighter.”

“And you mean to say that the computer systems couldn’t find him?” said another commander indignantly via hologram.

“They could, but the captain wouldn’t. We have since found out that a good half of that crew were Nova members.” There were gasps and heated talk as Kester put his hand up for silence. “Rest assured they have been dealt with most harshly. But the damage was done. The boy was taken to one of their facilities and changed.”

“I prefer the term reprogrammed,” said Dr. Yolix. “You see, they drugged him so that he would forget his childhood. There are serums that do this. Next came the matter of reconditioning him. I’m afraid to say that it’s more than likely that physical abuse was heaped on Reg to turn him into the monster that he became. There’s no doubt that through constant beatings and other acts of torture, that they reprogrammed Reg to have a fight or flight response. Of course, it would be foolish to say that they inflicted harm without giving him the illusion of love. Loyalties have to lie somewhere or they’d have a rogue on their hands.

“The reprogramming to make him forget his real parents was done via hologram and serum. I have no doubt that they put him in a holographic chamber, where they forced him to view life-like holograms of death and destruction. Before he was reconditioned, he would be injected with a serum to make him more susceptible to believing what he was seeing. There are many different plants, particularly from the phyndelium family, on Cypress IV. One of the most conducive ones for the rewiring of neurons is from the genus Teyroniotisphats, or, in simpler terms, the lady’s beguilement. That’s right, the lady’s beguilement, a beautiful pink, orange, and yellow flower that has a potent spore rendering the victim susceptible to advice as well as causing the victim to forget memories of his past while gaining new ones. When such advice is mixed with holographic images, well, those neurons in the brain create an image of a false reality.”

There was a silence before Dr. Yolix proceeded. “Picture this. Reg’s captors probably beat him and then told him lies about what happened after injecting him with the serum from the lady’s beguilement. They told him that he had witnessed his fictional planet be attacked by us, and then they ushered him to the holographic chamber to further cement these false memories. As time passed, they slowly stopped beating him and slowly started to show him love and consideration, if you call these false emotions such. That way, he’d be hardened, but still have a family he could trust and follow. He couldn’t help but lash out.”

“Are you saying that he had no agency of his own?” asked a diplomat.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” the doctor said, scratching his chin. “Memories certainly help with our decision making, but I certainly wouldn’t say that they dictate our every action like the laws of physics. I’m not a determinist, much less a hard one. But nonetheless, he has been wronged. And we have the opportunity to make it right. I have the opportunity to make it right”

“And yet you don’t want to restore his memories, but give him new ones, you said?” asked the Governess.

“That is your correct, your grace. He lost his parents years ago. I don’t want to bring him any more pain. I feel like the truth would be unethical, just as I feel it would be unethical for him to keep these current memories. I propose that we give him a new set of memories. While doing so, maybe we can even program certain skills within him so he can engage in a trade when he’s rehabilitated.”

“Who the hell are you to withhold his birthright from him!” someone spoke up.

“The logical question is who are we to return pain upon pain?” Dr. Yolix pointed out pragmatically.

“Who the hell are you to forget about those who suffered under his hands!” spoke out another.

“Such conflicting emotions!” said the doctor. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, you can punish me when this is all over. You see, I feel partly responsible for what happened.”

“You? Whatever for?” the Governess asked.

“Because Reg’s psychological malfunctions are because of me.”

Audible gasps flowed into the conference center in unison.

“It’s true,” said Yolix sadly. “I had been studying neuro-pathways, the cortex, the hippocampus, innate ideas, empirical ideas, how human thought is formed, and the effects narcotics can have on it, for over a decade. It was my goal, my foolish ambition, to change the minds of captured terrorists and then to send them to war against their own. Only now can I see how I let my research and discovery blind me to morality. Yet, it took a crisis for that to happen. It took the Nova cell hacking into my database and retrieving my studies.”

He looked down on the podium, ashamed to meet the eyes of those around him. It took Vangana speaking up to break him of his ruminations over morality.

“Be that as it may, your heart was in the right place,” she said. “We have been at war with Nova for so many years now, fighting for our very survival. If anyone wants to indict you, you will have me by your side. Reg, as you call him, wasn’t the first monster. They’d been creating monsters from before they stole your studies.”

“I’m not nearly as sympathetic,” said one of the governors of the outer planets. “That bastard has helped create a monster by his carelessness. I say vaporize him.”

“You shall do no such thing, Governor Jyot,” said the governess in an even tone. “Do I need to remind you of the hundreds of men you lost by trying to infiltrate Nova territory?”

Jyot fumed, but said no more.

“You’re too kind,” Yolix looked at Vangana, gratitude in his eyes. “But science without morality is empty. I deserve punishment. But first I want to make it right.”

“I object,” said Kester firmly. “You have insinuated enough that the drugs along with the hologram didn’t take away free agency, but only made him more likely to follow bad advice. If that’s the case, the Hygolian Dark Beast is still guilty, and as such must pay for his crimes against the Tandonians, our people.”

“Yes, he still had freewill, Commander. But he didn’t have anything else to go on but the false memories. How is executing him justice? He’s a victim. A victim of my carelessness and the rage of a terrorist cell. I plead for mercy. I can change him. It’s the only way I can redeem him and myself.”

“And I say that this is a terrible idea. What message do we send to Nova if we are lenient?”

“The message we send is that we are not like them, that we don’t resort to their tactics,” cut in Vangana. “I side with the doctor in this matter. Reg has been punished enough by being ripped from his parents and given false memories. Why should we punish him more?”

In the end it was decided that the Hygolian Dark Beast would be rehabilitated under Dr. Yolix’s care. It didn’t take long to do so. Using the same process that the terrorists had used, the same process that the doctor had initially conceived before they stole it, the doctor was able to recondition Reg in just a little under a year. New memories were given to Reg, memories of a blissful life on Tandonia, growing up with his father, Dr. Yolix and his mother Nesha Benu, before they moved to the space station. There had been some objection to allowing Yolix to assume the role of Reg’s father and his assistant to play the part of his mother, but the doctor assured those skeptical that it was all for the best, seeing as Reg was his responsibility. After all the holograms, the serums, and the lies told to Reg, he was no longer a dark beast of Hygolia, but a well-rounded, intelligent, and civil member of society, working as welder on the station.

“Hey, dad, how are you today?” Reg would ask the doctor when passing by him in the halls.

“I’m fine, thank you, son. Are we going to have dinner tonight?”

“That should be doable.”

“Very good! See you at eight hundred hours, son?”

“Sure thing.”

Life went on like this for a couple of years. It all went well until a figure stepped out from the shadows of the doctor’s quarters.

“Dr. Yolix,” said a small, lanky figure. Following from the shadows after him was tall, broad and imposing figure. Both of them wore Tandonian security uniforms, but something seemed very wrong about the whole situation.

“How did you two get in here?” the doctor asked, startled and afraid. “You two aren’t officers. Explain yourselves!”

“Explain ourselves we will,” said the short one grinning. “After all, we have much to explain.” He opened the vest of his security uniform slightly, revealing hidden under it the exploding star, the symbol of the Nova Freedom Fighters.

Yolix ran towards the door, but the taller and heavier Nova member grabbed and constrained him.

“Easy now,” said the short and lanky one. “We’re not going to hurt you. We’re here to bring you home, Dr. Yolix, or should I say Dr. Tanvon?”

“My name’s not Tanvon.”

“But of course! These Tandonians have erased your memory and replaced it with another one. They even made you think that you created the formula. Well, you didn’t. These Tandonians stole it from us and stole you from us. They have manipulated your memory, making you think that you are someone you aren’t.”

“Lies!” protested Yolix. “What would they have to gain by doing that?”

“A brilliant scientists of course. Sadly, you have forgotten how brilliant you were with Nova.”

“I have never been a part of Nova. You guys are heartless monsters, stealing children away to train as soldiers.”

Both of his captors laughed.

“Are we?” the small one continued. “Or is that just a false memory that the Tandonians and all their allies of the United Galaxy have implanted in you? Obviously they have erased your memory about you seeing your planet conquered and made to pay tribute to an empire that murders those who disagree with the governess. Your memories of different people being sold into slavery throughout Tandonia and the rest of the planets of the United Galaxy have been repressed. Instead, you were given a false memory of growing up on Tandonia, living a peaceful life among friends and family, studying at a university to become a scientist, when in reality you come from Helox. It was on Helox that your desire to become a scientist was made manifest because you believed that science could right wrongs, wrongs you personally witnessed at the hands of a corrupt empire, who wrongly accused Nova of being terrorists.”

“It’s not true,” spat Yolix. But in his mind was some doubt.

“Oh, but it is. You saw first-hand how brutal this so-called United Galaxy was run. How does one become united? Certainly not by peace but by force. You were a witness of that force and you vowed to fight against it. You developed some good weaponry for us and some efficient life support systems in our asteroid bases. You were very valuable. No wonder the Tandonians stole you from us.”

“I don’t believe, I don’t”…. But the doctor couldn’t finish that sentence. In truth, he didn’t know what he believed anymore.

“Don’t worry, doctor,” the small Nova officer put a hand on his shoulder in a gesture of comfort. “We will have you back to normal in no time.”

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Microsoft Word Woes

I often wonder why many programs can’t be written for the layman. I have spent most of my evening trying to figure out how to format the collection of short stories I’m working on with headers. Simple enough with Microsoft Word, right? Wrong!

Oh, to put in one header, that’s easy. No problem. To put in two alternative headers, one

Enough to make me scream. Image from GIPHY. Copyright NBC’s The Office. 

even header, one odd, I eventually figured that out with some online tutorials. But to keep my headers from going onto the title page, the content page, and the dedication page is another matter entirely. To give me more grief is that I can’t figure out how to give each of my short stories a different title for the header. In other words, on every odd or even page, I have the same title from my same short story covering my other short stories.

I look at the tutorials on Youtube. They mention putting in page breaks. Here’s the kicker. It still doesn’t fix my header problems. I am still stuck with the same headers.

I ask myself, am I just stupid? But then I see other people online ranting on Youtube and forums about how much they hate Microsoft Word, about how needlessly difficult it is to use. Some users are even so angry that they write out their frustrations in a stream of profanity. I can’t say that I blame them. Maybe we are all stupid or maybe Microsoft has made Word just too hard to use. Who knows?

Still, I ask why can’t it be easier? When clicking on header, why not have a box come down giving the writers an option? In this box could be a set of options (more option than one can be highlighted)  to choose from with the choices of
1. Enter individual headers manually
2. Start headers on a certain page number
3. End headers on a certain page number
4. Start new headers on a certain page number

Okay. So maybe it’s not perfect. But it makes a lot more sense to me than the way Word is currently set up. Because the way it’s set up has caused many people to rant and rave. I feel angry. I feel like all my time this evening was wasted trying to figure it out, only to be unsuccessful. This further means that I will be going into work angry tomorrow. Though I won’t be showing my anger outwardly, I will be fuming inside, feeling so far away from my goal of self-publication.

Screw you Microsoft and your Word program.

Boy, am I irate! Image from GIPHY. Copyright from Disney/Pixar. 

The Muse pt 2/3

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_The_Veil_(1898)

William-Adolphe Bouguereau. The Veil. Public Domain of the United States. Wikimedia Commons.

Renee Roux was frustrated as he paced about in his studio. He was commissioned to do a painting of Michel, one of the dukes, by his estate just outside of Nice. Though it was a beautiful estate and the duke was a regal specimen in terms of looks, Renee just couldn’t find the inspiration, and when inspiration couldn’t be found, he paced in his studio, a mess of a room with paint stained upon pallets, unfinished paintings stacked upon one another, and rough charcoal sketches on paper strewn everywhere.

Part of the problem was he didn’t want to paint the duke. Michel was such an ugly man. By ugly it didn’t have so much to do with the duke’s physical appearance as it did his spiritual. The man was spiritually devoid of goodness, and yet he had the audacity to commission Renee to paint him in a positive light, in which he radiated generosity. The duke had a hard enough time wearing such a paper-thin façade that it was unreasonable to think that any sane artist could lie about him any further with painting.

And yet, wasn’t that what artists did? Were they not the biggest liars of all? It was an artist’s job to embellish, to stretch, or discard the truth. And yet, Renee found he couldn’t do it. And it didn’t stop with the duke. Renee had lost the ability to paint people in general. Everyone was just so petty, so mean, so self-centered. His disdain for people was such that a month ago when a physically beautiful farm girl, whom all the men loved, offered to pose for him, he turned her down when he found out that she beat her younger sister.

Yet, he needed the money to live, and the duke offered plenty.

Renee’s pacing was interrupted when he heard a knock on his door. He grumbled as he opened it. A young woman with dark hair and brown eyes stood before him. She wore a beautiful white dress, puffed out from a crinoline underneath, giving the illusion that she was wearing large white rose petals. Upon her head she wore a wreath of white flowers.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Jovanna Acquarone,” she spoke in an Italian accent. “This is the studio of Renee Roux, is it not?” She peaked inside.

“It is, but I’m afraid I’m too busy to accommodate you at the moment.”

“Oh please,” she begged, stepping in before he could protest. “I promise I shall only take but a moment.”  Rudely, she looked through his stacked portraits and drawings, messing up the order.

“Would you stop that!” he shouted. “I have everything in order for a reason.”

“Of course you do,” she smiled. “Many people just see a mess in your studio, but your mess has order. Is that not what artists do? Create order out of chaos? Do they not paint to give meaning to life?”

“I paint because I feel close to God when I do so.”

“And what’s your current project?” she asked while taking a seat.

“To paint a portrait of the grand duke, but I certainly can’t paint it with you bothering me.”

“Nor can you paint it when you are busy pacing back and forth,” she pointed out. “And I might add, it’s a little hard to paint without a subject, unless you have a keen memory.”

“Is there anything else?” He was irritated that she just didn’t get the clue.

“Actually, there is. I’m wondering why you insist on painting what doesn’t interest you.”

“You don’t know what interests me and what doesn’t!” he barked at her.

“Oh, but I do! I can see it in your eyes. They tell me that you’re bored and that you want so much more. You want to create art for the sake of art, not primarily for the sake of a livelihood. The eyes, they tell us more than the tongue could ever hope to. The tongue is full of beguilement, the eyes are full of honesty.”

“What do you expect me to do, you silly woman!?” Renee growled, his face flushed red with anger.

“You can stop stressing, and take a respite,” she said in a matter of fact tone. “I’m about to head to a café nearby for tea. Then I’m thinking about going to the countryside, not far from the vineyard.”

Renee’s anger at being interrupted was quickly dying. There was a beauty to this woman, and even though she was gifted with her mild olive complexion, her dark hair, and her Italian accent, there was more than just physical traits. It was her personality. She wasn’t bound in chains to the notion of proper decorum, but was rather like a horse who had broken from a stall to run free.

“Are you asking me to join you?”

“But of course,” Jovanna smiled. “I have always loved your art.” She paused to look at a large painting he did of a lake nestled in the mountains with a cottage by it. “You say that painting helps bring you close to God. Well, the beauty of your brush strokes upon the canvas, the way they form trees, lush and green, and stunning sunsets illuminating mountains, makes me feel close to God.”

“You really like my work?” he asked.

“But of course. Though I’m from Naples, Italy, I once traveled all the way from home to see your work exhibited in a gallery in Madrid Spain.”

The artist looked at her with a newfound respect. “I guess a respite would be good for my soul,” he said. “Very well, Mademoiselle, I’ll escort you to whatever café you have in mind and then to the countryside.”

“And I shall be honored,” said Jovanna, extending an arm for him to take.

Together, they chose to relax at the outdoor patio of the Grain de Raisin Rouge, a charming café near a channel of water. Renee was drinking from a cup of coffee, and Jovanna from a cup of tea. Children were playing games nearby, as adults went on their way, holding parasols, and reading the papers. Not far from the café was a fountain with carvings of sirens upon a rock, pouring out water from shell horns. Lovers sat together around the fountain while children dangled their feet in the water. A few old men had set up tables nearby to play chess.

“What made you choose to be an artist?” asked Jovanna after taking a sip of her tea.

“I don’t think I chose,” said Renee. “I think the calling chose me. My interest started when I was a boy, when my father took me to an art exhibition. You see, I saw so much strife growing up. My family was at war with another family. It had to do with familial honor or some sort of nonsense due to some conceived insult committed years ago against my family. At first, it was just petty squabbles, stealing property from one another, and an occasional fistfight.”

Rene sighed, wondering if he’d be able to continue his story, but he pushed on.  “When I was a youth, I met another youth from the rival family one day when I was in a gallery. We had been admiring the same painting. We struck up a conversation about it. I soon learned that he was the son of the rival family. But by then it didn’t matter. Pierre and I had become fast friends. We’d go to opera houses together, look at the art in the galleries, and just talk about life in general, from the complex subjects to the more simplistic things that teenage boys like to talk about, such as girls. We formed a bond. Then my father found out. In a rage, he beat Pierre to death. I then lost my father. He was executed for his crime. I ended up losing two people I loved, my friend and my father.”

“So you chose painting as a way to escape from the pain,” said Jovanna, touching Renee’s hand understandingly.

“Yes, that’s right,” said Renee. “There is so much suffering in the world that I find joy in painting an idyllic one. In a way, I try to paint a world that I think God would love. Some artists paint grim scenes of death and suffering. They say it helps us deal with reality, and to an extent, I agree with them. But I personally want to create art to elevate peoples’ minds to a higher level of joy.”

“You prove my point,” Jovanna looked at him thoughtfully. “I see sadness in your eyes, even after having mentioned that it brings you joy. Does art no longer serve its purpose? I would feign think not. Rather, I think that you are so busy working on commissions that you aren’t following your heart with your work anymore.”

Renee nodded, knowing what she said was true.

“Tell me,” she said, “what do you like to paint? Granted, I’ve seen your art, but I want you to put it in your own words.”

“I like to paint pictures of flowers in a spring field, or of brooks of rushing water, of farmlands with fields of cows and horses.” He felt excitement bubbling up within him. “I like painting the beautiful churches in Arles, or in Paris, with their magnificent steeples. I love painting what makes me feel edified.” He sighed. “Not stuffy old dukes at their estates. Besides, the duke is a vain man, cruel and callous to the poor, and anyone he finds beneath him. He’s also a violent man, making sure thieves are whipped until they are near dead He’s a man, though who’s never been in battle, still revels in war.”

“Then why paint him?”

“Because I have to earn a living and he pays well. Besides, it’s not just the duke. I have found that people are not worth my time to paint. My art is to bring out beauty, and I can’t see beauty in people anymore. Everyone is fallen, everyone is rotten. People are just so ugly. I just can’t seem to see beauty in them anymore.”

“Not even a newborn child?” she asked.

“That child could grow up to be a tyrant.”

“Could be, but doesn’t have to. I believe we are born innocent. That God made us innocent. Do you not, Renee?”

“I’d like to think that,” the artist nodded, “but I’m skeptical. I just want to paint the countryside.”

“And you should paint those subjects,” said Jovanna encouragingly. “Because from what I can tell, you are in a cage. I had to leave my cage at one time.”

“You did?”

“Oh yes. I was to be wed to a rich man in Rome. But I didn’t love him. You see, I originally come from a wealthy family where decorum was drilled into me. So many rules, so many regulations. Though I may have grown up in a villa of gardens, elegant dining rooms, and with bedrooms full of king size beds and fine draperies, and though we lived near the sea, I still felt as though I were in a cage.”

“I had no idea that luxury could be a burden.”

“Oh, it most certainly can! My parents seemed more concerned about social status and money than they did about me. Each time they corrected me, it was more to help them avoid humiliation in the eyes of others, rather than actually caring for me. In fact, they hardly ever associated with me. My greatest company was the maid.”

“That does sound like a horrible life,” nodded Renee.

“Maybe so, but that changed soon enough.”

“How so?”

“I first saw your work,” Jovanna said excitedly, “when they were exhibiting it at a local gallery in Naples. I fell in love with it. It was your work that eventually made me decide to leave my parents, and to travel across Europe.”

Renee dropped his cup of coffee, spilling it on the clean, white linen. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Thank you works.”

“Thank you, then.”

“Now, I don’t know about you, but as lovely as this café is, I could certainly do for a stroll out in the countryside,” she said putting her tea aside. “Who knows? Maybe your spark of inspiration will be rekindled again.”

Renee escorted Jovanna to the vineyard and the abandoned chateau out in the countryside, which was a short distance away from his studio and the café. The chateau was run-down, but even with the caved-in roof, and the crumbling walls, it still retained a sense of elegance with the twisted gate that enclosed it. Grapevines were growing wild and Jovanna was eager to pick some fruit off the vines.

“I think that can be arranged,” the artist said. “The chateau has been reclaimed by nature.”

Renee and Jovanna walked along the rows of grapevines, sampling the fruit that tasted liked spring and summer.

“Look,” she said putting a cluster of grapes above his right earlobe. “You now have the appearance of a Greico-Roman god, such as Bachus. Now all you need is a toga.”

“Or my own winepress to make wine,” said Renee.

“Why do you need your own winepress? We can make our own wine here.” She took a clump of grapes and squeezed them over his head, the juice running down his back.

“You have some nerve. Two can play at that game.”

“No, no, stop!” she laughed as he grabbed her by the arm to shove some grapes onto her face, only for her to slip out of his arm.

He felt alive as he chased after her. He followed her laughter and the sounds of her footsteps. Turning a corner, he nearly crashed into her. Jovanna didn’t have time to get away before he slipped a cluster of crushed grapes down her back. She turned around and reciprocated by tossing grapes at him. But he pounced on her, and the two of them rolled through the grapevines, laughing merrily. They laughed for a long time, until Renee found his stomach hurting from it.

Tired, they retired to a brook amongst a grove of trees, to have their share of water. Renee had a heart of thankfulness. If this was happiness, he wanted to live this way every day. He was thirsty for it. Such contentment continued as Jovanna encouraged him to listen to the birds within the trees, and to catch frogs with her in a nearby pond. Renee noticed that beautiful Mediterranean wildflowers were in a rainbow of bloom. Jovanna remarked how lovely they were as she began to weave herself a new crown of flowers. Her new floral crown further accentuated the beauty of her colorful soul.

“How do you feel?” asked Jovanna, placing a hand on his shoulder.

“I feel inspired,” he said. “I have to paint people again! I want to use this location as a setting. I can quickly get my easel and paints from the studio. We’re not far away. I can be back in thirty minutes.”

“I’ll go with you,” she said.

“No. You can wait here.”

“I can,” she nodded thoughtfully. “But I don’t want to.”

Finding there was no use in arguing with her, he let her assist him in bringing his supplies, though he was adamant about carrying the heavier items himself.

When they were back amongst the grove towering over the wildflowers, Jovanna asked him, “So, what do you want to paint?”

“Well, I’m worried you might think me awfully audacious if I asked,” he said nervously.

“I think I know what you’re going to ask,” she smiled at him gently. “You want to paint a picture of me. Am I right?”

“Yes, that’s right. Jovanna, you are beautiful, inside and out. I haven’t felt so inspired in such a long time. I love to paint what is beautiful, and what’s beautiful right now to me is you.”

“But of course,” the Italian woman laughed. “I would love to pose for you.”

“You would?”

“But of course! What would you like me to wear?”

The artist found himself blushing, embarrassed to state what was in his heart for fear she’d think he was a man of ill intent.

“Did you want me to pose nude?” she chuckled.

“Well, yes,” said Renee rather timidly. Then he felt a surge of energy rise within him. “But I’m not sorry to ask. You’re a goddess in many ways, an Aphrodite, and clothing can only hide your beauty, not magnify it. I want to put on canvas, every one of your curves, every tone of your flesh. I want to paint out from your flowing black hair and deep brown eyes, to the curves of your hips, all the way down to the elegant shape of your feet.”

“A simple yes would have sufficed,” said Jovanna, as she started to remove her stockings, followed by her dress, crinoline, and her petticoat.

Tossing her clothing aside, she stood naked before the artist, except for the new wreath of flowers in her hair. For a moment, Renee lost his breath. He felt a profound sense of reverence towards this woman. There was divinity within her, as though God himself had created the ultimate form of art. Within her was a fire that birthed creativity. The sun shone through the break in the trees, illuminating her hair like polished ebony. Her light, olive skin gave off a glow. She was a living sculpture that would have put Rodin’s best work, if living and breathing, to envy. But it was her smile that was the most beautiful, for in it was light, love, and hope. Was she even human? Or was she something more, such as an angel from God himself?

“So, do tell. How should I pose?” she awakened him out of his near worship.

“Well, I” Renee, stuttered before concluding with, “I bestow the choice to you.”

Jovanna chose a sycamore tree among the grove. Many trees were clustered in shadows around the sycamore, but she stood in a soft beam of light from where the branches were scarce, as though she were an angel who had descended from heaven. Standing bare upon the carpet of wild-flowers, she was elegant and powerful. She arched slightly back against the tree, putting her right leg a couple of inches in front of the left and arched it so her heel was pointing upwards and her sole was flat on the ground. Her arms hung at her side, slightly crossing her them behind her back. Her head was partly facing towards the left side, her chin tilted up a little bit, and she wore a look of serenity on her face that accompanied the wreath of flowers on her head perfectly.

Renee felt that creative fire rekindled in him as he dipped his brush into his pallet and manipulated the colors upon his canvas. He knew that he couldn’t put her actual flesh and her actual soul upon the board, but he could give the illusion of it. No. That wasn’t completely true. He had felt for a long time that an artist at least shared a mirror image of someone’s soul. In this case, the viewer of the work would catch a glimpse into his soul and into the soul of Jovanna. To share such, he painted for hours, capturing each of her skin tones, the curves of her body, and the flowers wreathed around her hair. He painted with delicacy and with love, for that is what she was made from. He even painted the landscape around her with that same care. It came to point in which it was hard to differentiate between her and the grove as they molded into each other.

Upon finishing his painting, he felt more exhausted than he had in a long time. Yet he also felt a sense of elevation of his spirit. Gazing upon his painting, Renee knew that it was easily one of his best. The attention to detail of the work was exquisite. He had managed to capture each little subtly and nuance of the model and of the landscape around her.

“Jovanna, come and take a look!” he beckoned to her excitedly.

Without even bothering to get dressed, Jovanna jogged over to take a look at the completed piece. Renee saw approval glisten in her eyes as she smiled. She placed a hand gently on his shoulder. “I knew you could do it,” she said.

“I couldn’t,” he protested. “Not without you. It wasn’t just I who did it. But the both of us. We equally put our hearts and souls into it. And I know that there is more art that we can create. I don’t want to create it alone, but with you by my side.”

“I cannot,” she told him sadly, “as much as I’d love to.”

“But why?” he protested. “Is it something I did?”

“It’s nothing you did,” Jovanna said, as she walked over to her clothing and began to get dressed. “It’s what has been accomplished. My sole purpose was to help you gain your inspiration again, and now you have it,” she said as she put on her petticoat. “There are others who need my help.”

“But I need you,” he protested. “Everyone else is so ugly.”

“You will always have a part of me,” she said as she pulled her stockings up. “And you’ll find other beautiful people who look just as good as I do.”

“It’s not that! As I painted you, I could feel the love and warmth that burns within you, radiating out from your heart. You are kind. You are fun. You are gentle. You inspire me.”

“Many things inspired you before you turned your passion into a profession,” she pointed out while she put her crinoline around her waist. After putting her dress back on, she looked at the artist with imploring eyes. “Don’t ever let your profession overrule your passion.”

“But you are my passion!” he shouted.

She walked back over to him and took his hands in hers. “Your art is your passion,” she said. “Your ability to create. You said God gave you a talent. I believe that’s true. God drew me to you to rekindle that talent. He wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t help others in need.”

“But I don’t want to say goodbye,” said the artist, feeling like he was going to break down.

“We don’t have to say goodbye, yet.” She hugged him close to her.

He felt her warmth, and the dress she wore even felt like a rose. Only now he also felt the thorns from a relationship that he had previously thought was the beginning of something heavenly. He had thought it would turn into a relationship that transcended above the troubles of the earthly realm. He was wrong. He held onto her tighter. He didn’t want to let go. For a moment she held onto him tightly as well.

Finally, Jovanna letting go and taking him by the hand said, “Can you please escort me to the station?”

Renee nodded, knowing that there wasn’t anything more that he could say.

The sun was setting as he walked with her, hand in hand, to the train station. It was strange about how the day was simultaneously at its saddest and most stunning during sunset. It was a poetic reminder of life, about how one is given blessings that one must appreciate before such blessings are lost.

“I am happy,” said Jovanna quietly, although there was a tinge of sorrow to her voice.

Renee stared at her in contemplation.

“I’m happy,” she continued, “that I get to enjoy the rest of this evening with you. I could ask for no greater joy.”

“And I as well,” nodded the artist, though his pain felt immense.

Renee felt another one of his heartstrings break when they came to the train station. “You know, I’m willing to board the train with you,” he said.

“I do know,” she nodded plaintively. “But it’s not to be. Trust me when I tell you as much.” Suddenly, Renee found himself again tight within her arms as she hugged him farewell. Then he was given a quick kiss on the cheek. “Thank you for all that you’ve done. Thank you for letting me inspire you. Now go and be happy again. Pursue what gives you joy. Arrivederci.”

With these farewells given, Renee watched her train leave the station.

“Monsieur Roux,” came a voice behind him.

Renee turned around to find that he was looking at the servant of the duke he was commissioned to paint.

“Monsieur Roux, whatever are you doing at the train station? Only watching the trains leave, I presume?”

“No. I was seeing off an old friend.”

“I beg your pardon,” the servant scratched his head, puzzled. “But I have been watching your strange manners since before the last train left, and I noticed no one.”

“You had to have noticed her!” said the temperamental artist. “She was a beautiful Italian woman, and she gave me a kiss on the cheek before she left.

“Monsieur, I fear you may be hallucinating, for I saw no such person. Regardless, my master, Monsieur Michel is most excited about the painting he has commissioned of you. I trust you will grace us with your presence soon.”

“Yes, of course,” sighed Renee, absolutely emotionally worn out. “Next week, next Tuesday.”

“Very good, Monsieur Roux. Monsieur Michel looks forward to seeing you again. Until then, I take my leave. Au revoir!”

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_Lost_Pleiad_(1884)

Painting by William Adolph Bouguerau.  L’Etoile Perdue. Public Domain of the United States. Wikimedia Commons  

The painting of the duke was the last commissioned painting that Renee Roux ever did. From then on he worked at the old chateau and vineyards he had purchased in remembrance of the short time he had with Jovanna. That’s not to say he gave up painting. On his spare time he still painted every week, but this time out of joy and pleasure, and not out of work. He had made a few inquiries with friends in Naples to find out about an Acquarone family, but they couldn’t find any rich family with that name. Nor had anyone else heard of a Jovanna Acquarone. Her light had disappeared into the sunset that evening. The only thing he had to remember her by was the painting that he had done of her which he always kept close by in his studio.

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The Muse Part 1

H._A._Brendekilde_-_A_wooded_path_in_autumn_(1902)

A Wooded Path in Autumn by H.A. Brendekilde.

 

Jean Francois was at a loss for words, literally. The poet renowned all throughout France had been composing poems since he was six-years old. His poems weren’t just stanzas or lines of words, but verbal pictures enlivening the senses. Born a prodigy, he had a gift for weaving words together into a beautiful sunset or of a terror waiting in the dungeons of Paris. He could capture the tender feelings of a mother for her child or the fear of a soldier upon the battlefields. His pen was both an angelic finger touching the hearts of all his readers, and a cold draft of wind causing them discomfort. It had seemed like the master poet’s mind would always be a fountain of ideas, gushing ink out of his indefatigable pen, raining words onto paper. But such was not the case.

It had been five years in which Jean had been unable to tap in into the fountain of creativity. Through these years he grew despondent, but tried to live the best he could within the city of Paris. He had enough money live off of from sales of his past work. But it wasn’t about the money. Certainly he was grateful that he had enough to live off of, but what was the point on continuing to live if he couldn’t continue on with his passion? Food, drink, and shelter could sustain his physical health, but only his poetry could sustain the cravings of his soul. He had been starving creatively for so long now.

Then, she arrived.

She arrived when he was taking a stroll in the park. The poet saw her. She was wearing a yellow bonnet, brighter than a summer day, and a dress, green like a field in spring. Despite the colors of the clothing, they weren’t the fanciest clothes. Yet she carried herself with such confidence that would befit a queen. Jean was perplexed that no one else noticed the beauty that had sprung among them, everyone preoccupied in their own daily tasks.

Then he noticed that she was making her way towards him and he grew nervous. With eyes fixed on him, like an arrow that had found it’s mark, he wondered if she was coming to berate him for staring. He thought of some way he could apologize to her, but he had nothing to say. It was ironic. The famed poet was an exceptional genius when it came to expressing himself in poetry, but when it came to everyday speech and communication, he was clueless.

“Are you Jean Francois?” the woman asked him.

“Yes,” the poet said. “How did you know?”

“I know because my intuition tells me that you need inspiration,” she said. “Besides, I am in love with your prose, Jean Francois. The way the words flow across the page, the way the prose touches my heart. For instance” she said quoting one of his best loved poems….

In a cell of my own making, your flowers bloom

               Changing hell into paradise, as it ushers out the gloom.

               Though I was confined to darkness dead

               You are the sun, in which from your light I’m fed.

               For not all of God’s angels have wings

               Of his whole heavenly choir that sings

               But they are still angels, unlocking the cell with a key

               Allowing your heart to fly free.

 

“Why would you love that one?” asked Jean. “It’s not even one of my bests. Also, what do you mean I called out to you? Who are you?”

“It’s not for any artist to make a judgement which one of their works is the best,” said the woman. “That’s up to each and every individual who is in love with their craft. As for who I am, my name is Aednat. Now, tell me, does your soul not grow weary in the city?”

“I think so,” said Jean, embarrassed of giving such a simplistic answer. Of course he was bored of Paris! And normally he’d write down his feelings upon paper so eloquently, if not for the writer’s block. He was tired of the sounds of the clattering of horse hooves and carriages upon the cobblestone roads, of crowds walking down the streets like cattle, and of the public drunkenness and belligerence.

Yet she had asked a good question, although she didn’t state it asking him why he hadn’t communed with nature for the last eight years. The truth was he didn’t know. Maybe, even though he was uncomfortable in the city, he had still grown too accustomed to the comforts it offered with the fine wine, the rich food, the theater, and the concerts. Still, looking into his heart, he knew that he certainly did miss the beautiful countryside, its woods and creeks.

“Has it occurred to you,” continued Aednat, “that the reason you have lost your inspiration is because of the city?”

“I didn’t think,” –

“Say no more, Jean. What you need is a holiday in the countryside.”

“I’m not disposed to at the moment,” Jean said nervously.

“What important appointments do you have in your current life?”

Jean had nothing to say. He had nothing of paramount importance in his life. It’s just that he was never good talking to people, particularly women. The fact that she was a beautiful woman, not just physically, but personally, made him all the more uncomfortable. He feared he might say something stupid.

“I would rather go to the countryside by myself,” he ventured timidly.

“Nonsense,” said Aednat, taking him by the hand. “I, along with millions of others, have fallen under the spell of your beautiful poetry. Surely the most gifted Monsieur Francois can find it in his heart to socialize with the common folk.”

“But that’s the problem,” said Jean. “You’re not common.”

“Oh, then it shouldn’t be a difficulty for you to join me,” she laughed while pulling him along.

Before Jean knew it, he was on a carriage leaving Paris with Aednat. For the first part of the journey he could only look at his feet. But she gradually helped him out of his shell. She had a picnic basket full of sandwiches and grapes, as well as a bottle of champagne to share and a couple glasses to pour it in.

It was hard to tell whether it was the gregarious nature of Aednat or the champagne that put Jean at ease, but eventually the poet was laughing and talking more freely. “I am unsure as to what made me write poetry in the first place,” he said. “But perhaps it helps me connect more with reality.”

“I think most would say the same about their art,” agreed Aednat, who had sat across from him prior was now sitting right by him.

“Come to think of it,” continued Jean with a hiccup, “I’m not sure why I haven’t gone to the woods in such a long time. When I was a boy, I lived out in the countryside with my father, a hardworking farmer. My mother had passed away when I was eight-years old, and my father always resented me for having lived and her for having died. He never liked children much. Sometimes he would hit me or yell at me for his misfortune. But my mother, oh she was different. Before she died, she gave me a special notebook that she had saved up for with her money. See, I wrote my first poem when I was six, and everyone said it was the work of a prodigy. So she encouraged, no, she made me promise to keep up with my writing. After her death, I kept away from my belligerent father as much as possible, finding solitude in the woods by the creek as I wrote down my poetry.”

“It sounds like you had difficult life,” said Aednat, giving his hand a squeeze.

“Difficult is right,” sighed Jean. “I was sport of by the other children. Perhaps it was jealousy or maybe they just thought I was strange since I wasn’t like them. Either way, I didn’t have a beautiful life with my father who thought poetry was a waste of time, and I certainly didn’t have anyone my age as friends who loved nature. Nature was my temple, my solitude.”

“Why then did you ever choose to live in Paris?” asked Aednat.

“My editor and my publishing firm asked me to,” shrugged the poet. “They were tired of the long waits when it came to mailing my manuscripts. In time though, I grew to love aspects of city life, such as good food, performing arts, and galleries. But now that I think about it, my soul has missed the gentle company of the woods.”

“And I think the woods will do more for you than you can imagine,” acknowledged Aednat.

“Now, tell me, I beg of you, where are you from?” asked Jean. “You don’t have a French accent in the least. Your accent sounds Irish.”

“This is true,” affirmed Aednat. She took off her bonnet. Bright red hair cascaded down her shoulders, like a waterfall in the sunset. And for the first time, since she removed her bonnet, Jean noticed that there were freckles upon her cheeks. He wasn’t sure why hadn’t noticed them before. Perhaps the shadows had covered them. “I’m from Dublin, Ireland,” she said.

“And what brings you to France?”

“France is a land of writers, artists, musicians, actors, and overall dreamers. In truth, I don’t think I chose France, but France chose me to be a muse. I lived in what many would call poverty, but I was never poor. Like you, I had nature to commune with. But unlike you, I had a loving family my whole life who always supported me. I am terribly sorry about the loss of your mother and the abuse from your father.”

“I let is sleep in the past unless I’m asked. It’s not a big deal, Aednat. I am curious as to how you made it to France.”

“It wasn’t easy, my dear Jean. But a wife of one of the farmers nearby was French, and she taught me how to speak the language. It’s how I discovered your poetry, which opened up a whole new world for me, in which I saw greater beauty in life. I said to myself that if France could produce someone of such a stellar spirit, I had to go meet him for myself.”

“I’m touched,” Jean was at a loss for words.

“So I saved every penny to make it here,” she said proudly. “Eventually I was able to take a ship to France, and I have since fallen in love with it, just as much as I have fallen in love with your poetry.

For the rest of the trip, Jean became so at ease with this gregarious Irish woman that it didn’t seem long until the carriage reached its destination. Upon disembarking, Jean paid the coachman some francs, and Aednat fed the horses some carrots she had in the basket.

After the coachman gave his word that he would wait, the two of them headed into the groves of trees. Jean was unprepared for the overwhelming wave of nostalgia that overcame him, reminding him of simpler times when the woods were his true friends, before he was beguiled by the false charms of the city. As he pondered over the matter, Aednat ran out and spun herself in circles around the trees. Jean watched her fall into the orange and yellow leaves as she took a deep breath of the fresh autumn air. Following suit, he also drank down the air, finding it to smell more intoxicating than a freshly opened bottle of fine wine. Drunk off the aroma of the crisp autumn season, he followed her lead and crashed into the leaves right by her.

“Do you smell that that sweet smell?” asked Aednat.

“Yes, indeed I do,” said Jean. “For it’s not just the smell of the autumn woods, but of my childhood. Sometimes I wish I could have had other children to share it with.”

“Then let’s be children again,” she took him by the hand, and pulled him up. “Just for the day.”

For the next three hours, Jean was climbing trees with her. Atop, he saw a stunning panorama of gold and red in all directions. He walked with her, barefoot, in creeks of water, in which she would sometimes giggle as she splashed cold water on him. In turn, he would splash cold water back at her.

When they were tired of climbing trees and walking through the woods, the two of them laid side by side under the trees as evening approached. The setting sun transmuted the leaves of yellow into glowing molten gold like an alchemic formula. The setting sun turned the leaves of red and orange into a brilliant blaze without a fire. Yet the air around them was fresh and growing cold. Aednat cuddled close to Jean, providing him warmth.

“Is this not better for your soul than the city?” she asked softly.

“It is,” agreed the poet. “I feel invigorated.”

Aednat nodded, and then stood up and stretched. Jean watched her walk towards a grove of trees as a rush of wind caused the bright, red strands of her hair to flutter in unison with the red leaves that were flying about her like beautiful butterflies. Her yellow dress was accentuated by the red and yellow sky.

“Can one truly get any closer to Heaven than this?” she asked. “Come join me, Jean!”

Once Jean walked over, Aednat took him by the hand. He gulped, feeling his heart beat rapidly.

“Now, with our hands together, let’s lift them up in the air,” she said.

“Just the hands we are holding?”

“No our other hands, too. We’re going close our eyes and pretend, while the wind blows against us, that we are birds flying together over the hills.”

Jean closed his eyes, and as the wind blew against him, he saw a vison of them flying over the hills. In his mind, they were passing over farmlands, chateaus, old castles, and mountains. The two of them were birds with nothing to keep them attached to the ground, free to soar wherever they wished.

Jean was surprised to find himself briefly lifted off his feet by Aednat, and then twirled by her, before she clasped one hand on his shoulder and another in his hand.

“I’m so happy I could just dance,” she said. “Don’t you feel similar?”

“I’ve never danced before.”

“Then I’d be happy to teach you. Put your right hand on my back.”

When the poet stalled, she moved his right hand to her lower back.

“Now, just follow my lead,” she said.

He did so but not without feeling awkward about it. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“You’re doing magnificent,” she encouraged him.

Magnificent? He doubted it! She was leading him in a waltz, and he was tripping over his own feet. Once he even fell down, taking her with him. When he tried to apologize, she only laughed heartily. Her laugh was a sweet, caring voice, echoing with joy, like a fairy creature throughout the woods. She even had the audacity to pull him back to his feet again and urge him to continue on.

As the dance progressed, he found that he was indeed getting better.

“Aednat, I’m” – he started before she cut him off.

“Don’t say anything,” she whispered. “Just pay attention to the surroundings.”

Jean took her advice as they continued to waltz. Leaves floated down, like pages of gold, from the trees around them that rose up tall, like pillars within a ballroom. Except, the woods were more elegant than any ballroom. The woods were where nature did its dance of life.

Feeling more confident, Jean dipped Aednat downwards. In turn, Aednet lifted one of her legs in the air and tilted her head back. Her bright red hair swept across the carpet of gold and fire. For a brief moment, he looked into her eyes to find that they mirrored a galaxy full of endless possibilities. Who was this woman?

The dance continued until the moon cast its glow upon the forest. It was then that Aednat ended the dance by kissing Jean upon the forehead. “You dance divinely,” she said.

On the way back in the carriage, Jean was in awe over the events of the day. Emotions, profound and powerful, were welling up inside of him.

“Aednat, when will I see you again?”

“You will see me every fall amongst the trees. You will see me in your poetry.  But you won’t see me again like this,” she told him, not unkindly.

“Why ever not?” he asked in shock. “Did I do something to dishonor you?”

“No, nothing of the sort. I have had a lovely time with you. But there are others who are in need of a muse, and I must be a muse to them as well. I have accomplished what I set out to do. I have awakened your soul. Now, it’s time for you to write poetry again.”

“But I can’t write it without you,” he protested.

“You have written it without me for years because of all of the different facets of life that inspired you. I was only one inspiration out of many. Now I must go and re-inspire other artists.”

The poet looked down, broken-hearted, unable to look at Aednat. She took a seat by him and gently held him in her arms.

“Be not full of sorrow,” she said, her voice as gentle as her touch. “Don’t you see? Not only are you able to write again, but I have coaxed you out of your shell. There are many wonderful woman out there who will be blessed to meet you. Stop withdrawing yourself. You will continue to bless people with your poetry, but now also with your company. Would you refuse me the right to awaken or reawaken the art within others as I have for you?”

“No, of course not,” said Jean. “That would be selfish.”

She clutched his hand. “You are amazing, Jean. I enjoyed our time together. Good things will happen to you. And truth be told, I will miss you, just as you’ll miss me. I will always love you, but I must go.” And with these words she kissed him on the cheek.

Back at his Parisian apartment, Jean toiled on a new poem. By lantern light, he poured out all the tender feelings and passions from his heart on paper, forming verses that bespoke of the enchantment of dancing with a fairy princess among the golden leaves, under trees of marble against the setting sun. He concluded it with the pain of such a moment slipping out of his life. It was the most powerful poem he had ever written. It burned painfully on paper just as it burned in his heart.

The next morning, Jean submitted his poem for publication. His readers were ecstatic to see another poem from Jean Francois after five years of silence. But upon reading his latest work, they were overwhelmed with feelings of both happiness and melancholy. For the poet’s words awoke in their hearts memories of joy and loss.

Jean Francois was never without ideas from then on.

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The Future of Science Fiction isn’t on Earth

Barnard_59,_part_of_a_vast_dark_cloud

Banard 59, a part of the Pipe Nebulae. Credit ESO.

To those who read my post asking about what the point of science fiction is when so many inventions are already coming out, I have given it much thought since then. Is there a place for science fiction still in literature? Many of my dear friends who want nothing more than to encourage me have told me that good science fiction is about character and not tech. To a point, I agree with them. However, if the books I am writing already have the technology I envisioned out, then how are my books science fiction? Rather they are more like techno-thillers, and truth be told, I’m not a fan of techno-thrillers.

With lifelike androids just around the corner, flying cars being worked on, virtual reality already here, and computers everywhere many of these tropes now a reality. Look at the original Star Trek and you find that we already have computers with monitors, computer calls, and tricorders. Look at Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. We have shells that go into ears. We call them blue tooths and headphones. The virtual walls in Bradbury’s novel are like the interactive video games people play today. Look at Lary Niven’s Ringworld. He mentions e-books, but he doesn’t call them e-books. Nonetheless, they are screens people read books off of. I could go on and on. It seems like there is very little else to explore. Except for distant space travel. Notice, I used the term distant. It wouldn’t surprise me if we got colonies on our moon or on Mars during our lifetime. Heck! We may even have some research station orbiting Jupiter, for one reason or another. But for distance space travel? That’s another matter entirely.

We are still far away from warp drive if warp drive is even possible or wise. It’s true that the Hubble has peered far into the soul of the universe, but we still aren’t any closer to visiting these nebulas, setting foot on a planet in a different solar system (heck, I don’t even think we’ll set foot on Pluto within our own solar system in our lifetime), and seeing extraterrestrial life. The distance between us and these distant galaxies are like the distance between us and our current technology.

I already hear protesting over the other end of the keyboards and monitors. We’ll get there in our lifetime. Look at all the leaps and bounds we have made. I am willing to admit I could be wrong. Nothing wrong with that. But for the time being I am skeptical.

But my theory is we won’t travel to different galaxies and see different lifeforms in our lifetime. Therefore, at least in our lifetime, the science fiction of light speed and meeting extraterrestrial races will never feel dated. While we live on a world oversaturated with holograms, robotics, nanobots, and yes, even force fields, we will still be looking to the stars for our science fiction. That said, I am still going to finish my novel Cold Shades, but it will be one of the very few Earth-based science fiction books I write. The stars are calling me.

_Finger_of_God__Bok_globule_in_the_Carina_Nebula

Finger of God in the Carina Nebula. Credit NASA and ESA.

Is it Worth it? A Question Whether to Continue Writing Science Fiction

As you, my dear readers, know, I have been working on writing a science fiction dystopia novel entitled Cold Shades. To those who have read it, you know one of its prominent themes is about a society so overwhelmed with technology that human interaction suffers. It’s an issue in our society that I have worried over for a long time. An issue so important to me, that I decided I would write a novel detailing my fears. Analyzing all the worst aspects of human nature, my plan was to visualize what technology could come possibly forth, issuing a word of warning about how it could potentially make us lose contact with humanity.

 

Driving_Google_Self-Driving_Car

A self-driving Google car. Image taken by Steve Jurvetson. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jurvetson/8190954243/in/photostream

While I have had this idea for years, it wasn’t until the last couple of years that I really began to apply myself in writing my novel. However, as the years and months have passed by, I have noticed that many of my ideas that I had consigned to the realm of speculation and science fiction were ceasing to be such. For starters, take self-driving cars. In my novel, characters use self-driving cars that fly. While it’s true that cars can’t fly yet, imagine my surprise when I found out that self-driving cars were already in the works. No big deal, I said to myself. There are still plenty of other warnings I can give people. One of the most prominent themes of my novel is a lack of human touch, and people turning to physical touch and intimacy in the form of sex-bots rather than flesh and blood people. Well, lo and behold, friends were posting articles this year alone about some pervert who is already working on sex-bots. Okay, no big deal! What about mind reading computers? Already done. Mind-reading headsets are in the works, if they aren’t already out yet, that allow people to control computers. Yes, the concept in my book is a little more technologically advanced, but the concept is already in development.

I ask what’s the point of it all? The point of my dystopian novel was to warn about the potential dangers of a society over saturated with technology. Yet with the rapid pace that technological innovation is moving, I feel like there is no imagination left to imagine the ‘what if’ scenarios. Instead of giving a warning about the dangers of such potential technology being developed, I am instead left as a man stating the potentially obvious or at least spouting off my bias. Now there will be no time for people to think of such consequences because of the accelerated development of said technology. It feels like my idea, which had felt so fresh originally, is quickly turning dated.

Of course, this goes back to my other long-standing issue. In an earlier post, I asked if science fiction was better than fantasy. I mentioned that fantasy had the benefit of never feeling dated, whereas there is much in science fiction that can’t afford that luxury. The problem is technology moves too fast. I honestly do wonder if there will be a day in which science fiction novels and stories will be looked at as dated relics. Yes, I think the writers will be appreciated as visionaries from their time periods, almost like prophets. But I don’t think science fiction books, or movies for that matter, will hold the same sense of wonder for people as they did in the past. In other words, I wonder if I should just forsake science fiction and just stick with fantasy. After all, fantasy is timeless, consigned safely to the mists of ancient times, back to the mythopoeic mind, where it resides eternally.

So, there’s the matter laid out. Should I continue writing my science fiction novel which seems to be rapidly turning into science fact, or should I just scrap it altogether as a lost cause? I do feel like I still have some ideas that haven’t come to fruition in our society yet, but knowing my luck, by the time I finish writing Cold Shades as well as editing it, those other thoughts in my head could turn into reality. Yeah, I’m feeling discouraged. I wish I could have gotten this novel out faster.

 

1200px-Kodomoroid®_(Child_Android),_the_world's_first_news_announcer_android,_exhibited_at_Miraikan_(2015-06-15_04.00.10_by_Franklin_Heijnen)

Kodemoroid! The first news announcing android. One of the themes in my book is androids taking jobs from people. A concept that’s been used before, but one with my spin on it. Image copyright by Franklin Heijnen.

Cold Shades Ch 2

A dystopian future, in which humanity is overwhelmed by technology, causing a lack of human interaction.

Parental Advisory: This story is strongly suggested for ages 18 and up due to harsh violence, strong language, and adult themes.

It had been a week since Becca visited her brother, and she was still saddened over the whole ordeal. Though he was difficult, she still loved him. But there wasn’t anything she could do for him. She wished that an employer would give Harold a second chance, but she knew that she was nearly asking the impossible. The vast majority of employers didn’t want to take the time to see the potential employee, hence they had computers do it. She wondered if it was because they were afraid. Becca couldn’t say so for certain, but it would make sense. After all, if a potential employer were forced to look her brother in the eyes, seeing his hardships and his struggles, would such an employer be willing to give him a chance? Furthermore, despite all of the technology, would more people, even if only a few more, have jobs if there were less computers to conduct the interview process?

Computer interviews were so convenient for employers. They could hire whomever they wanted to by programming the computer to interview using the simplest and most basic of questions, not giving any leeway or room for extenuating circumstances or complex reasons for why someone did what they did, or why they lacked experience but could gain it. There was no room for bargaining, no room for understanding. Harold was certainly a victim of that.

Becca tried to stop thinking about it. The situation was just too painful. Instead she redirected her thoughts to the night at hand, one that could be alive with passionate embraces from another human being.  Some people would call her foolish. Why bring about the chance of heartache when one could just settle for a sex-bot!

Sex-bots were in high demand, with manufacturers selling large commodities of them. Advertisements abounded upon computer monitors and 3D billboards which read, Why risk fucking yourself or a friend when you can safely fuck a bot? It worked. These androids were not only lifelike replicas programmed with personalities, but they were also equipped with the sexual organs of male and female, being programmed in all manner of sex. Plus, they were disease and heartbreak free. Constantly connected to the internet, sex bots could have personality upgrades transmitted to them.

But Becca never liked the idea of cleaving unto a machine. If she were to twain as one flesh, she wanted to twain with someone real. She wanted more than just fucking, she wanted the actual process of making love, of giving ones heart and soul, the joining of two people not just physically, but mentally. She was hoping to find that in Ted, though for the life of her, seeing as how odd he was, she didn’t know how. But she always believed in giving people a chance. This was a particularly important mindset to possess in a time in which finding human interaction was becoming rare.

By the time she was done getting ready she looked like a queen among queens. She was the very embodiment of passion, dripping with sexuality, in her scarlet dress hugging her hips, lips glistening with gloss, her red hair brushed and curled to perfection, and her red slippers glittering under the lamplight. She was Venus De-Milo incarnate, walking, talking, and breathing, breaking free of her stone. She was now ready to meet Ted at Club Starlight.

The automated flight down there was dull, all of the houses and shopping centers looking the same in a sea of mediocrity. Eventually she grew so tired of the dull scenery that she activated a book on her V-Tablet. A small handheld device that when activated displayed a holographic image of a book. Like her computer screen back home, the image was triggered by the device sending a signal to the chip in her brain, making her see virtual pages. She opened a cover without substance, her hand turning air, to the first page of her novel and began reading.

In all respects, the trip shouldn’t take long. Jet cars could travel 300 mph. Though on a busy evening like this, they usually flew slower. Many vehicles were out flying, though a few kept to the roads down below. It was true that many of them didn’t have passengers in them, being piloted by robots. Some of the vehicles were even robots themselves, like the driver that deliver Becca’s food to her the day before. Like the robotic vehicle, many of the vehicles on the road were making deliveries to homebodies, and there were a lot of homebodies. Because of this, there were a few stops at hover lights to prevent an accident.

All things considered, it took her only ten minutes to get downtown. Soon she was at the top of the glass skyscraper where Club Starlight was located. Much to her chagrin, the upper parking lot, which didn’t have much space to begin with, was full. She would have to park below and take the elevator up.

“Find a parking space below,” she told the car.

The car complied, hovering slowly down to the street below her, where numerous homeless people were congregated.

Becca felt uncomfortable with so many of them about. She felt bad that she felt this way. She was sure that many of them wouldn’t hurt her, but couldn’t they go to one of the numerous shelters? There was certainly no shortage of shelters since machines had taken over ninety percent of jobs. The ironic thing was that many of those who were once employed at homeless shelters were now homeless themselves, androids having taken their place.

Becca knew that she was one of the fortunate ten percent holding a job. Because of this it was important to be sympathetic, but the crowd of homeless people edging their way to her car were putting her on edge. Breathe, she thought to herself. She wouldn’t be able to help them. There was no way she could transfer funds to all of their chips, especially since some probably had minds so scrambled from drugs and alcohol that they couldn’t remember their chip numbers anyway. She would walk straight towards the door, ignoring them. It was cruel, but it was necessary.

Hungry hands reached out to her as she got out of the car. Whether they were hands hungry for food, hungry for love, or for whatever funds she could spare to feed an addiction, she couldn’t say. Either way, she practically jogged to the door of the building.

Homeless people were practically breathing down her neck, their breath rancid and stale. Their bodies were covered in a fine layer of grime. The smell of their clothes washed in urine and soaped in alcohol were assaulting her nose. As this was going on, Becca was waiting for the computer to conclude with its analysis that she was not one of the homeless. Come on, hurry up, she thought to herself.

Suddenly the doors slid open, allowing her to escape from the ocean of lost souls. Once inside, Becca breathed deeply. After a couple of breaths and looking down at her feet, she turned back to see the hands of many of the homeless pounding on the glass door, as well as hear the faint words of “help us,” “I just need a little for a meal,” and so forth. She turned away from it, not letting them see her tears. She was trying to hold her emotions in, but she was struggling to keep from bawling. They didn’t deserve this. Yet, she couldn’t help one without helping the others, and she just didn’t have the funds to help all of them.

Becca turned a corner in the hall before finding a bench to sit down on and sob. Harold could have been in the same situation if she and her parents hadn’t of helped him in the first place. He could be in that same situation if she didn’t continue to help him.

A rough grip took Becca by her right wrist, violently yanking her hand away that had been wiping away her tears. She looked into the face of a man sporting a bushy beard, greased with sweat and blood, and be-speckled with dirt. His eyes flashed at her, drawing her into not the soul of a man, but of a frenzied tiger, hungry for her flesh. His teeth gritted together and his tongue licked his lips. Becca wanted to scream, but she was nearly paralyzed.

“You best be quiet!” he ordered.

Becca just barely managed to nod in assent.

“Nobody can help you, bitch.”

“What do you want from me?” Becca was just barely able to express her question above a whisper.

The homeless man took both her wrists tightly in his hands, yanked her up, and then slammed her against a wall. Becca’s space was being personally violated as she found his face near hers, his nose just about touching her nose. His breath smelled like he was decaying just a little bit each day, turning him into nearly a walking corpse. Still, though much of his humanity had long died, leaving behind a savage beast, a little bit of it must have clung onto him, as even in his anger tears of frustration and loneliness were forming in his eyes.

“I want to eat a good meal again,” he said, spitting a shower of putrid droplets on her face. “I want my own bed to sleep in. I want a job to work at during the day, but no one is fucking giving me a chance. I want someone to touch, someone to caress. I want the feel of flesh.”

“I’m sorry, don’t hurt me,” Becca was crying. “I’ll give you some money. Just let me be. What’s your chip number?”

“I said shut up!” he barked, and then slapped her hard across the face causing her to be dazed as he tore a huge tear in her dress down from the bust line. She was in a dire situation now. Though she had never been violated, she knew a rape when she saw it.

Becca did the only thing she could do. She fought back. She sunk her teeth into his cheek, causing him to scream. The taste of bitter blood conglomerated with old dirt almost made her retch. She smacked him as hard as she could across the area where she bit him, his cheek still raw from it. He staggered back, falling on his backside. Becca gave a quick prayer for deliverance.

As the homeless man was in the process of getting up, her prayers were answered. But not by the kind Savior of the New Testament, or the mighty Abrahamic God of the Old Testament or the Torah, nor by a benevolent Buddha, or a mythical Brahma of the Hindu texts, but by the ominous figures of two security bots. They towered up above the bum, their metal armor gleaming under the light. The pair of them were warriors, guardians to potential customers, ready to delivery divine retribution to those unholy.  Unlike androids, security bots, as well as police bots, didn’t look like people. They were built to look machine through and through, their purpose to inspire fear in criminals and troublemakers. These bots were grey and black all over, with broad, round cylinder chests of plated steel. A firm pair of trunk-like metal legs held them up, and long steel arms, ending in thick metallic fingers for strong grip, hung from their sides. A small cylinder was atop the large cylinder of each, forming a crude head, fashioned with two flashing lights to make eyes. Unlike police bots, these were without any form of guns or ammunition, being bouncer bots.

“Are you alright, mam?” one of them asked, its metallic voice displaying no emotion.

“He tried to rape me!” she cried, pointing to her attacker.

The homeless man’s countenance had greatly changed, having turned from a fierce tiger to a mouse wanting to scurry away. He had no time to escape his judgement as the steel fists of the two bouncer bots pounded into his soft flesh. Becca was certain that they would give him a couple of punches and then carry him out. She was shocked to see them keep on brutalizing the man. Her attacker was being morphed into their punching bag.

“Stop it! Stop! He’s had enough!” she screamed.

Her cries for leniency were ignored.

Becca closed her eyes. But, though it protected her from the horrendous sight of violence, it couldn’t drown out the sounds of breaking bones. Only when she ceased to hear sounds of punching did she venture to open them again. The homeless man dangled in front of her, mangled and broken, blood dripping. She let out an inaudible gasp. The bouncer bots, as cold in their mannerisms as the steel that plated them, said not a word of comfort as they threw him to the side, leaving him to drown in his pool of blood.

Conflicting emotions swarmed within Becca, threatening to drown her in terror. She didn’t know what scared her more. There was no telling what the crazy homeless man would have done to her if they hadn’t of come. He could have killed her after he tried raping her. As for the bouncer bots, certainly they saved her life, but what if they had turned on her? Who could stop them if they had of chosen to beat her to a pulp or rip her limb from limb?

For a while she wondered if it was even worth going to meet Ted, shaken up as she was. Would it be better to call the whole thing off for the night, to reschedule? She shook her head. She needed to try and forget about the situation. After all, she came to potentially be in a man’s arms. There was a comfort and love, a mystical power that came from the arms of a man, like something out of a fairy tale that ended happily ever after. If only the car wreck hadn’t of ended her happily ever after with her husband.

Taking a breath, she let herself know that should could do this. She held the torn opening of her dress closed so as not expose herself when she walked into the club. She wished that she could find something like a safety pin to at least pin her dress closed, but all she could manage was her left hand to hold the broken seams together. She hoped that Ted would be beyond understanding, offering comfort to her distress.

Becca took the elevator up to the top floor, while realizing she was crazy for carrying on her evening appointment in her current emotional and physical state. Passing by her view from the glass elevator were a plethora of shops, store chains, and restaurants. Occasionally, she could see an employee or a shopper, but they were few and far between. Of course there were life-like androids as well as average robots, but even the life-like androids had aspects of the way they were built that differentiated them from people. For instance, androids had to be designed to show seams around the outline of their face in order to have a removable faceplate. This was made into law so that people could differentiate between a real person and an android. As for the lack of customers at the establishments, this didn’t matter, since all of these restaurants and stores delivered anyway, including Club Starlight, who delivered drinks.

Yet, even looking at all the stores and restaurants couldn’t keep Becca’s mind off the fact that she had nearly been raped. How many other women, homeless women even, had that man violated? She felt numb. And yet she also felt like she needed someone talk to. She fought back the urge to throw up.

She felt weak in her legs when the elevator reached the final floor, but she managed to steady herself and make her way to the entrance of Club Starlight. Though the huge neon blue logo complete with a big star was supposed to bring a sense of excitement, Becca felt that it looked garish instead. The music could be heard blaring from inside, if it could be called such.

A robot bouncer waited at the door, one less large and intimidating than the two that had killed her attacker, but still formidable. Becca panicked, thinking in her current state that the bot bouncer would mistakenly identify her as one of the homeless. Thankfully, such was not the case, and she was allowed in, even with the bust of her dress torn wide open. Looking back, Becca was sure that the bot saw it as fashion statement, seeing as there were women who wore little more than bikini tops to such clubs.

Inside, strobe lights were flashing, seizure inducing to anyone unlucky enough to be cursed with epilepsy. A few people were dirty dancing, their senses hypnotized by the blare and rhythmic pounding of the music. They were all slaves to their passions and to the beat of the stereo.

Becca scanned the room, easily catching sight of Ted at the bar. It wasn’t hard. Aside from the few people dancing on the dance floor, and those few drowning out their sorrows at the bar, he was one of the few people there. For a place that should have been swarming with people, the club was nearly empty. There wasn’t even a bartender at the bar, but an android pouring drinks, telling canned jokes. If one didn’t want to hear the canned jokes, there were also the vending cabinets that could dispense alcoholic beverages.

Still shaken, Becca slowly took a seat next to Ted. If she had of previously been an Aphrodite, then Ted was still a Dionysus, god of wine and intoxication, as he seemed to have drowned seven glasses. Still, strangely enough, he didn’t look the least bit inebriated. He looked handsome decked out from head to toe in a fresh polo shirt, ironed out slacks, and a pair of polished shoes. She wanted to tell him that he was handsome. She wanted to engage in pleasantries. But she couldn’t. She was doing all that she could not to break down into tears over what had just happened.

“Well, hello beautiful,” he eyed her up and down. “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes!”

“Flatterer.”

“Thanks,” he said, gulping down his eighth glass. “Hey, you look a bit startled. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she lied, unable to conceal the quivering of her voice.

“Are you sure?”

“Actually, no,” she yelled. It was hard enough to speak of it, but the loud music made it even worse. “A guy tried to rape me.”

“That’s terrible. Are you alright?”

Are you alright? That was the only thing he could think to ask? Of course she wasn’t alright. How could someone be so dense, so clueless, to ask such a question. Still, she kept her cool.

“Yeah. I guess so. But, no, I guess I’m not. Oh, it was terrible. It was like a living hell. I saw the guy get beat to a pulp by the bouncers, not long after getting out of my car.”

“Speaking of cars, I brought mine,” said Ted. “It’s a new brand, and it can fly ten feet higher than the last model. Would you like me to take you for a ride in it?”

Becca looked at him incredulously. She couldn’t believe that after what she had been through that he’d be so thoughtless to bring up hover cars. “No!” she snapped. “What? Are you crazy! Not right now! I need to unwind. I’ll have a drink.”

“Hey, not a problem. Let me buy you one.”

“Great! Thanks!” she said without much enthusiasm in her voice.

She soon found that she had lost any desire to drink. The most she managed to do was to stare blankly at her poison in a glass, oblivious for a moment that her date had started talking about cars again.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” she asked when it finally dawned on her.

“What do you mean?”

“All you do is talk about your love for all these damn flying cars. Can’t you talk about anything else?”

“Do cars bother you that much?”

“Of course,” she said, pushing her glass aside. “My husband was killed in one. His car battery ran out of power and he fell to his death while killing a family when crashing into their living room. Flying cars are one of the crappiest things to happen to society in a good long time. And what’s even crappier is that you don’t seem to care that I was violated by nearly being forcibly penetrated by a bum, and then I then had to see him murdered. This is beyond shitty.”

“I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your husband,” said Ted solemnly. “But you’ll be happy to know that the new models, such as the Light Rods, have built in safety mechanisms to prevent an accident. Plus, they are comfy. I would love to take you for a ride in one. What do you say?”

“I say you’re nothing but a bastard,” Becca, retorted. “All you care about is your cars. Well, I don’t want to hear it. Go to hell.”

As Becca was walking out of the club a middle aged man tapped her on the shoulder.

“What do you want?” she fumed, her patience running thin.

The man just shook his head. “You know that guy wasn’t a real person, right?”

She was taken aback at this. It was the same thing she had been told recently. “How do you mean?”

“I mean he was just a walking advertisement. An android!”

Becca stared at him startled. “No. He couldn’t be. Androids have to be built a certain way. I saw no seams on him.”

“Maybe because some companies aren’t making them with seams anymore,” the man shrugged.

“But that’s illegal!” she protested.

“Only illegal as far as money will say.”

Confused and traumatized, Becca took her leave of the club and made her way back down to the car, finding relief when the crowd of homeless were no longer there.

The airways were fairly clear. But it didn’t prevent her from having a near accident. Out from the darkness a car came flying towards her, its lights off. Her car’s navigation system just barely managed to swerve away from the oncoming car. Palms sweating, heart pumping, voice screaming, her car grazed against the side of the other car, peeling away the paint of both and taking her rearview mirror.

“Idiots!” she called out, as it flew through the darkness.

She was lucky. If her car’s computer had of waited just a second longer to maneuver out of the way, she would have been falling to the surface, the two cars intertwined in a fiery comet of devastation. She checked her car’s navigation system to find that it was functioning properly, meaning that either someone had hacked into the programming of the car that nearly hit her or that the passenger had disabled the safety system so that he or she could be the driver. Whether it was a hacked into car or a driver going for a joy ride it didn’t matter. If Becca was distraught before over the evening’s events, she was twenty times more distraught now.

 

Back at her home, Becca lamented over the current form of society. Had society really grown that cold? Or had it always been so, with technological advances giving people more of the chances to turn such.

She wished for a simpler time. She missed her husband. Her prince charming, her knight in shining armor, her Lancelot, she his Guinevere. Now she sat alone to mull over her thoughts of nearly being raped, of seeing her would-be rapist brutally killed, and almost colliding with another car.

She took a jar of meds out of the cabinet. She was only supposed to take one with a drink of water to cut down on stress. She found herself taking four before drowning them down with a glass of beer to induce her into a blissful near coma of tranquility. She normally drank wine, but tonight called for something stronger.

Lying immobile upon the couch, her second glass of whisky dangling in one hand, Becca’s mind traveled back to when she had first met her Steven, her husband. It had happened entirely by accident. The two of them had been out walking one particular evening, when, upon turning a corner, they bumped heads. What happened next was like something out of a romance novel, the two star-gazed lovers instantly falling for one another. He had shown chivalry, offering her his hand and asking her if she’d like to be taken out for coffee.

Their first date at a coffee shop had been a good one, the two of them being the only ones there. There were of course a couple of robot workers in back, and a few self-serving and making coffee machines. The big chain coffee companies, just like all the other companies, were more than grateful for this option as it allowed them to save money instead of paying employees. Becca and Steve had been grateful too, enjoying the alone time, which quickly turned into a make-out session. It hadn’t taken long for them, just by intellectually stimulating conversation, to find out that the two of them were kindred souls, both of them sharing a love for literature and art.

Later that night they had gone back to Becca’s house to spend an evening in the mountains. The holograms did a wonderful job tricking their brain into making them think they were on a mountain-top at sunset.

From then on Steve and Becca had experienced many other moments together. It wasn’t long until they were married and living together.

It had been late when Steve chose to take his car out, but he had forgotten to check the battery power. The car should have hovered safely to the ground when it ran out of power, but for some reason the safety mechanisms hadn’t worked. So he crashed into a house below him, killing the family, including their two year old child, the bumper landing on the kid. Becca felt sorrow for that family, and for Steve whom she would never see again. For months she had mourned, suffering night and day. She had tried to patch her love-life up, but she had never been able to find another Prince Charming. Becca felt like a Sleeping Beauty, who unlike the one in the fairy tale had received her first kiss to wake her up, she on the other hand was doomed to sleep in a castle of thorns without ever being kissed again.

Melancholic, she passed out from these thoughts in her head.

 

She awoke in the morning, her head pounding. Worse, the thoughts of the night prior of her nearly being raped to seeing a man killed came back to her increased fifty fold. This time she couldn’t hold back the sickness that inside her, and she threw up.

She wondered if her favorite hologram simulation could brighten her up.

“Mountaintop at night,” she called out to the computer on her desk.

Immediately, Becca was in another realm. Stars shone above her, as trees cloaked in shadows to her right and to her left rose above her. She breathed deeply, immersing herself in the environment. This was what life used to be like when there were more areas of land without buildings, before houses and other structures covered almost the whole earth. Now, the only way one could commune with nature like a mystic of old was through computers sending false images into the brain to trick someone into thinking they were somewhere else. If there was ever to be another Jesus Christ, Moses, Buddha, Muhammed, or Joseph Smith desiring to commune with nature, to tap into the mysteries of the universe, to evoke higher powers, that holy man, or woman, would have to make use of the computers sending false images to their embedded chips, as not many real forests or deserts existed anymore.

When Becca really wanted to escape civilization, there were other programs she could activate. She had programs of Utah style deserts with great rocky ridges, and of Scottish country-sides full of green rolling hills and lakes.

She often wondered what it would be like to see an actual area of nature, not a computer simulation. She shook her head. There was no use in thinking about it. Those days were turning to dust under foot.

Laying upon her back, she washed away any stress from her mind and just looked at the stars while listening to the sounds of crickets chirping and owls hooting. It was very peaceful, and it functioned better than any therapy that she’d have to dish out loads of money for.

It was interesting to think that when she was done with the simulation, the room would go back to being her living room, the illusion fading away.

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